Christmas Joy?

Christmas is supposed to be a time of joy, yet my heart is torn by so much that is wrong in our world that can be hard to find any joy. 

On the one hand it is astonishing how the government has found a ‘magic money tree’ and has been dishing out money to people during this lockdown, but on the other hand they announce that they are going to cut aid to overseas countries. 

I was privileged to have visited Mozambique some years ago.  Having experienced a tiny glimpse of life there, I now regularly send money to help some of the poorest who live there.   This picture shows one lady with all that she has to live on for the next month:

Is she any less valuable human being than me, or you?  Does she matter less because she happens to have been born in a poor country?  Or because she’s black?  Isn’t that what we think deep down if we deny help to people in this situation?

It’s not just our government cutting back that matters.  What about each of us as individuals?  There is a line in a song “my Chinese take away would pay for someone’s drugs”  (medicines) – that is so true.   I know many people, quite a few now retired or close to retiring – university professors, doctors, professional engineers, teachers, civil servants – who have amassed significant amounts of money, own big houses, take expensive holidays.  Healthy pension funds and investments have secured a comfortable retirement – as our culture tells us that that is what we have to do.  

And yet this old lady has no such ‘essentials’.   She lives day to day in accommodation that we would not give space to in our garden, and is desperately grateful for a sack of rice and some cooking oil:

We in the ‘developed’ world are not deliberately evil, but we are ignorant.  We are ignorant of the life of the majority of the world.  We have money but are fearful of losing it.  We are taught to save for our rainy day, but we do that when so many others are already being flooded out by a deluge. 

It would be hypocritical of me to say we should sell all we have and give to the poor – although since Jesus said it, it is probably right.  But we can start to move in that direction.  It does not cause any discomfort if the total of our investments drop by (say) 10% when we still don’t think twice before having our Chinese takeaway – and yet I have found that joy comes from seeing the images of those who I have been able to help.  This person has something to eat because I chose to send some money.  That person can now put a tin sheet over the hole in the roof of their house because I chose to send some money.  When I  give, I feel no pain, only gain.  And yet it is still not ‘easy’ – still the pressures of sixty years of western capitalist propaganda take effort to resist.  It takes an act of will sometimes to give, but it is worth it.

Try it this Christmas?

May God bless us all.

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The Covid biopsy

The world is in crisis.  It has been for some time, but we have all been too busy to really notice.  Maybe we have noticed big obvious things like climate change, or obscene rates of top pay, or housing crisis, but there is so much that is deeply wrong that we have simply not observed it.

Covid19 has given us the time to look.  Covid19 has shone a spotlight on so many wrongs, intensifying their effect.  It is like a biopsy, and unfortunately the results are not looking good.  There are of course many signs of good health, but we need to look for the cancer.  Within the UK we see

  • hypocritical and untrustworthy government
  • under-equipped NHS
  • gross inequality
  • institutional racism – reflected in the higher rates of death among BAME people
  • the availability of money to pay for things that we deem important

Many of these are seen in more exaggerated forms in the US.

But  we are not yet focusing on the global wrongs.  You need to look beyond the normal media news outlets to hear what is happening in majority world countries; across Africa, India, Pakistan…  In these countries the lockdown is causing more deaths and fear than the virus itself.

What does the world need to do?  What do each of us as individuals need to do? There are 5 steps:

  1. We need to recognise what’s wrong – Covid is helping us do that.
  2. We need to take responsibility for it, to own the part that our behaviour has played in it.
  3. We need to repent of that behaviour.  To commit that we will apply our energy to changing our behaviour.
  4. We need to receive forgiveness for what we have done and cannot change, to liberate us to make a new start.  In the same way that the priest flooded Jean Valjean with gifts and forgiveness in Les Miserables, so Jesus Christ has flooded us with the gift of God’s love and forgiveness.  We need to accept this gift to empower us with the determination to live changed lifes.
  5. We need to live out our new commitments

It may all seem daunting, we are just one among billions.  But we are not called to be the Cathedral of Love, but to be individual stones in that cathedral.  We each have our part to play in the great and glorious endeavour.

Be blessed, and a blessing.

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“Will you return to me?” asks the Lord

For many years now I have been offended by the gross inequality in the world and in our nation.  I particularly became aware of how bad it was in the UK when my children were of an age to think about buying a house (Cathy and I were able to buy our first house at the age of 22!).  I looked at how much building societies would lend for a given income, and so what income one would need to buy a house.  I then looked at the income distribution in the country, and realised that without ‘parental’ help only a quarter of individual earners would be able to buy their own home.  And if your parents are unable to help, then there is no chance for someone on minimum wage.  The system ensures that the poorest are doomed to remain poor, particularly when you realise that the rental costs that they have to pay are far higher than the equivalent mortgage cost if they were able to buy a home.

This institutionalized system of stealing from the poor to give to the rich let me to become an active political campaigner.  But to no avail…

We are in the midst of the Covid19 pandemic, which I am hopefully will be the catalyst for great social re-engineering.  Poor and rich alike are realising who it is that keeps our world going; our key workers.  We are realising how fragile our safety nets are.  The government, who claimed that there was no money, and inflicted a decade of austerity has suddenly found it possible to inject billions into the economy – the money is there, we just need to choose what is important.  People are talking about a Universal Basic Income.

Some billionaires are giving large sums to help those in the majority world – and realising that their own day to day living standards are unaffected, but that giving brings the joy of helping and showing love to others.

Society could be transformed in ways that I’ve longed for, but been helpless to achieve.  The hearts and minds of people needed to change – and it seems that they are. Yet this is not being done by human hand, or by leaders rhetoric but by a consequence of the biological design of life.

It is not unreasonable to think that this powerful persuading force might be a providential gift from the one who created and sustains the universe.  A gift which, although it brings fear and immediate pain could lead to a transformed society that has the courage to value each human being, and to retreat from its wanton destruction of our natural environment.  Is this a glorious example of the power and love of God to bring us back to spiritual health?

I hope we choose to accept this gift, although I know that human beings are a stubborn people.  Thousands of years ago the prophet Amos wrote: “I sent among you a pestilence after the manner of Egypt ... yet you did not return to me, says the Lord.”  I pray the same won’t be said of us.

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On life, and death

Have you reached the point yet of wondering what happens when you die?  Perhaps the current pandemic will prompt more of us to think about this important question.  It is important because of the impact that the answer has on us whilst we are alive.

There is an unspoken assumption behind all the current fears and actions that death is a bad thing; that we must do whatever we can to extend life – even if the extended life comprises sitting in an armchair in a care home gazing out the window or watching daytime TV.  I use the term ‘extend’ deliberately instead of the more common term ‘save’ because we are all destined to die;  rescuing someone from drowning does not ‘save’ their life, it extends it.  But to what purpose?

Actually, it may be that rescuing someone from drowning does ‘save’ their life, in that the experience may cause them to turn from a previous pointless and self-centred existence to a life of love and purpose.  The fact that someone cared about them enough to rescue them may make them realise the importance of relationships, the importance of selflessness, the importance of love.

People who have gone through near death experiences often become dramatically changed, dedicating the rest of their lives to acts of loving kindness to others.  So it is indeed possible to save someone’s life. But it is the quality, value and purpose of the life that is saved rather than the biological state of being alive for ever.

We confuse the biological life with what I will call spiritual life.  An amoeba has biological life, a tree has biological life, and so does a virus.  But none of these have spiritual life.  They do not ‘experience’ life, they have not brain to sustain any form of consciousness and they simply live biologically.  There may be other forms of higher life (apes, dolphins) that can ‘experience’ life; I don’t know because I’m not one of them.  But I do know that I experience life.  When I eat a curry I ‘experience’ a taste, but even that is hard to pin down.

If you Google “The Qualia Problem” you will find a paper by Frank Jackson which states that:

“I think that there are certain features of the bodily sensations especially, but also of certain perceptual experiences, which no amount of purely physical information includes. Tell me everything physical there is to tell about what is going on in a living brain, the kind of states, their functional role, their relation to what goes on at other times and in other brains, and so on and so forth, and be I as clever as can be in fitting it all together, you won’t have told me about the hurtfulness of pains, the itchiness of itches, pangs of jealousy, or about the characteristic experience of tasting a lemon, smelling a rose, hearing a loud noise or seeing the sky.”

But whatever it means for me to experience the taste of the curry, I know that there is a ‘me’ to experience it.  It is that ‘me’, not the biological me which I long to preserve, whose ‘life’ I want to save.  And so the big question is, does that ‘me’, that spiritual me, cease to be when my physical body ceases to be?

If the spiritual ‘me’ will end when the biological me ends, there will be no ‘me’ to experience that I am dead.  Do not grieve for me, I will no longer exist.

Of course I will remain in your memory, and you will look back on your memories with joy and sadness – as with all memories.  They are not erased simply because I die; they are as real as they are today while I live.   But if extending my life gives me no ‘spiritual’ life at all, then any new memories will bring sadness in remembering my final days.  So what will be the value of extending my biological life when I have no spiritual life?  The preservation of my decaying body simply to avoid biological death will bring sadness to overshadow previous memories, and will in practice bring mourning forward before my death.

This may sound heartless, particularly if you have not yet lost your parents or other loved ones.  But before you condemn me, I have suffered loss.  I have lost a child, at birth.  I have lost both of my parents.  And I know the pain that the pointlessness of the latter days of their lives brought them.  My father knowing he had to suffer the pain of prostate cancer with no hope of end other than death; my mother wondering when the pointlessness would end, her daily routine seeing her sitting on her bed gazing out at the suburban street for hours.  I grieved over them all when they died, and the grief is still there of course, many years later, just less acute.

I am not heartless.  No.  I want to see people truly, spiritually ‘live’ whilst they have biological life.

But what if the spiritual ‘me’ continues to exist beyond death?  What if my purpose is indeed eternal?  And how can I know?

The crew of early sailing ships believed that there were other lands over the horizon.  Europeans believed that there must be a large land mass south of the equator before they found it.  And brave adventurous souls set off to find it.  Some came back and told others that it was true, and soon constant travel to and fro confirmed it.  That made it easy for those who had not been there to ‘know’ that Australia existed.

But it’s not quite the same with life beyond biological death.  Our bodies cease to function and eventually the flesh rots and we are left with a skeleton.  We don’t find dead people returning to re-inhabit their skeletons; there is no free travel between here and any ‘afterlife’.  At least, not that we are aware of.

Imagine for a moment a caterpillar.  It has a physical body, it eats and excretes, it moves around and (pretending for a moment that it has the capability) experiences the physical domain of the leaf.  And then, after it has grown and fattened up, it appears to die.  It becomes encased in a shell and the caterpillar’s physical form decays.  But it is still alive, rather than being dead, it is being transformed into something different.  The butterfly that emerges from the cocoon bears no resemblance to the caterpillar, and is not even constrained to living on the leaf.  A thing of beauty, it soars into the air and is a delight to see.  Yet it cannot return and tell the caterpillars who remain on the leaf that there is life beyond the cocoon.  Neither should we expect human spirits return to tell us what happens beyond biological death.

And yet… one did return.  No ordinary man, but a man who had turned the lives of those he met upside down;  A man who taught the secrets of true spiritual life to those who would listen – yet more than a great teacher;  A man who healed those who were physically ill by the touch of his hand, yet more than a great doctor;  A man who brought biological life back into a friend’s physical body after they had been buried in a tomb for three days;  A man who willingly surrendered his body to excruciating crucifixion and inevitable physical death and burial in a tomb.

Two days later, his tomb was empty.  Although his friends and more importantly his enemies searched everywhere for it, no body was to be found, just some folded grave clothes.  His enemies were desperate to find the body to disprove the claims of his closest friends that he was alive; that they had seen him, spoken with him, and touched him.

Madness we say – they must have imagined it.  And yet such a madness that they were willing to die rather than deny it.  Such a madness that they were filled with joy, and their lives were transformed;  freed from the greed and selfishness of their world – sharing all they had with one another, loving one another.  Such a madness that they began to understand the secrets their friend had taught them about what a true spiritual life looks like.  Such a madness that brought ‘life in abundance’, not just for them but for all who listened to their eye witness accounts and trusted and believed them.  A madness that has affected millions upon millions over the past 2000 years.

Our decision of what we believe happens when our bodies physically die has enormous impact on our lives whilst our physical bodies live. Do we trust in the eyewitness accounts of what happened to that man, and hope and expect  that spiritual life is not snuffed out with our decaying bodies?   Do we choose to believe that our spiritual selves will live on, no longer constrained to the two dimensional leaf of this world but soaring into the sky of eternity; that we will be transformed from caterpillars to butterflies.  Do we start putting into practice the words of wisdom that bring spiritual life today?

Madness?  Or the sanest decision that we ever make?  Do we trust or ignore the evidence?  Do we dare to find out?

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The Secret £millions

Across the country, philanthropists in previous generations established charities to help the poor.  If you search the charity commission website for the name ‘poor’ you will find many of them.  Many have run their course and fulfilled their purpose, but others are sitting on literally £millions of assets, and generating income in excess of their giving.

From the charity commission published information, in my town alone there is one charity which has assets of £1.75 million, including £300 thousand in ‘cash’. In 2018 it had income of over £110 thousand, giving away just over half of that (£55 thousand) at a cost of running the charity of £23 thousand. Every year on record the income has exceeded what they have given away.

Another has current assets of £680 thousand, and an income of around £30 thousand per year. In 2019 it gave away £8 thousand.

Each of these charities has a board of trustees, and I’m sure that they are well-meaning people but surely it cannot be right that charities that are supposed to be helping the poor are year on year increasing their assets – particularly through years of deep austerity.  Why is nobody holding these charities to account?

Probably one problem is that few people know these charities exist; I’ve not seen any of them advertising, and so how does someone in need know that they are there to help?  And if someone is aware of them, do they know how to apply for help and is the process transparent and easy?

There is a line in a Pratchett film which runs something like “the thing about saving for a rainy day is that you have to recognise when it’s raining”.   Looking at the past ten years or more of austerity, I think we can say it’s been raining for some time now; and with the current Covid 19 crisis we might say that we have a torrential downpour.  Surely it’s time for such charities to proactively fulfill their purpose and give away their savings?

And who knows, if they begin to do a good job in really helping those in need they might find that those who have money to spare might actually donate to the charities to support their work?  But as things stand, this seems to be almost a scandal.

Can we do anything to help?  If nothing else, we can have a look at the charity commission list, see who operates in your area, and let people know that these charities exist.

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Plastic – part of the solution.

The primary environmental crisis today is the accelerating effect of CO2 emissions on climate change and global warming.  To address this issue we need to put less CO2 into the atmosphere and we need to capture more carbon.

Plastic has a high carbon content and takes hundreds of years to biodegrade (a process that needs oxygen).  That is why we don’t like it – little bits of plastic are getting everywhere and littering the world for hundreds of years to come.

There are vast empty caverns underground where we have in the past and continue to extract coal for fueling our power needs.

So surely part of our solution is to capture all our waste plastic, and put it underground – in the mines where we have extracted the coal.  Having taken carbon out, we put carbon back.

This is potentially more powerful than recycling plastic, simply because recycling leaves the carbon that would have been used to make new plastic available for power production and CO2 emission.

It is also potentially more powerful than eliminating plastics and replacing with fast degrading packaging, particularly if the replacement packaging takes more energy to produce, or allows more product waste.

Finding a new use for disused coal mines could revitalize regions devastated (in the UK) by Thatcher.

We could use plastic recycling networks to gather the plastic, but we would need to public to fully engage with capturing their plastic and not allowing it to litter.  A start would be to compressing all our plastic sheet waste in plastic bottles.

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Liberating repentance – Acts 10; 34-43

I’m going to draw out from Acts 10; 34-43 what makes the Gospel transformational, and suggest how we can engage it more fully.

The short speech by Peter was made after he’d been summoned to meet a Roman centurion.  Peter willingly went to meet him after having had a vision where Peter was being told to eat food that Jews considered unclean.  In the vision he was told “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

Peter is describing what he learnt from the event, and it efficiently describes why  I am a Christian.

First of all Peter declares “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”  In short, God loves you and me equally to the Jews.  We are ALL allowed to share in the life giving message of the good news of Christ.

Peter then describes that he personally was witness to the facts that:

  • John baptised Jesus, at which point God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit
  • Jesus went around doing good and healing people
  • Jesus was crucified
  • Jesus was raised to life on the third day, and appeared to those selected to be his witnesses
  • Jesus told them to preach that He is the one who will judge the living and the dead
  • And finally that everyone who believes in Jesus will have their sins forgiven

The first four points bear witness to who Jesus was.  But I want to focus on the last two points. That Jesus will judge the living and the dead, and that everyone who believes will have their sins forgiven.

If we are honest, we’d rather not be judged at all.  Perhaps we are living quiet lives, keeping our head below the parapet.  We come to church on Sunday and we just want to be left alone until we die when we hope to go to heaven.

If we are to be judged, we don’t want our neighbours or friends judging us.  And when we see what the Tabloids say about people, we certainly don’t want society to judge us.

We probably get angry at anyone who dares to criticise us – “who are they to judge?  They’re no better than me! Hypocrites!”

What about Jesus judging us?

Jesus – the human incarnation of infinite goodness.

The one who gave every moment of his life to heal, teach and serve.

The one who allowed himself to be sacrificed by crucifixion, and still forgave those who nailed him to the cross.

Jesus.  We can’t be angry with Him – he’s certainly no hypocrite.  We can probably accept that he has the right to judge us, but maybe we are still not happy with the idea.

Deep down we know that if Jesus were to judge us he would see SUCH shortcomings in our lives.

  • Our petty grievances with our neighbours, with our fellow Christians
  • Our contentment to live in comfort whilst we know that there are others who have nothing
  • Our consumerism, looking for the cheapest product that then keeps the poorest in poverty and makes those in work put in more hours at lower pay than they can manage
  • Our readiness to get in our car to go anywhere, to take cheap overseas holidays, to travel on a whim, leading to overheating of our planet and the mass extinction of so many species

And that’s before we get to more obvious ‘sins’…

And yet we probably don’t ‘feel’ like sinners.

When I was on the cusp of becoming a Christian I had been told that I needed to ‘pray the sinner’s prayer’.  This is what I wrote in my journal:

I sit down – I’m not ready for kneeling yet – and start to read the prayer…

 “Dear lord I have sinned…”

 The trouble is…I don’t feel like a sinner.  Yes, I know that I could be a lot better than I am, but I just don’t feel it at the moment.  So I start to pray that God will help me to make the step from logic to feeling.  At least I try to do what I think praying is ….  I wonder if I’m doing it right.

I didn’t ‘feel’ like a sinner – but I recognised that I needed to.

If we don’t ‘feel’ our sin, then we need help.  We can pray, like I did, for God to help us make the step from logic to feeling.

A little later in my journal I wrote:

My daughter had organised her own birthday party, with half a dozen friends coming round for a ‘scary party’.  It was impressive to see them all dressed up as witches and devils (and a cat!?).  However, for some reason I was rather grumpy.  I didn’t get into the party spirit and got rather short with all the mess, and split drinks and so on.  I wasn’t very sympathetic when my daughter got upset that no-one was listening to her, and tried to explain that they couldn’t help it if they got distracted.  At the end of it I felt that I had let her down.  I don’t know if she noticed particularly, since it was rather a busy affair, but that was how I felt.  I felt like a sinner.  Was someone trying to tell me something?

But if we can ‘feel’ our sin, if we can let the Holy Spirit show us our shortcomings then we will surely fear his judgement.  That is in part what it means to fear God.

And recognising our sin is the start of healing.  When recognise what we are, when we see through our masks of self-justification, and we don’t like what we see!  We want to be different, we want to change.  That is what repentance is – honest assessment followed by determination to change.

I recently watched a TED talk by Eve Ensler, and activist for women.  She was talking on the profound power of an authentic apology.  She describes how her father abused her, but that he’d never apologised – never repented.  She describes the process of repentance.  In her words:

Apology is a sacred commitment. It requires complete honesty. It demands deep self-interrogation and time. It cannot be rushed. I discovered an apology has four steps, and, if you would, I’d like to take you through them. 

 The first is you have to say what, in detail, you did. Your accounting cannot be vague. “I’m sorry if I hurt you” or “I’m sorry if I sexually abused you” doesn’t cut it. You have to say what actually happened. “I came into the room in the middle of the night, and I pulled your underpants down.” “I belittled you because I was jealous of you and I wanted you to feel less.” The liberation is in the details. An apology is a remembering. It connects the past with the present. It says that what occurred actually did occur. 

 The second step is you have to ask yourself why. Survivors are haunted by the why. Why? Why would my father want to sexually abuse his eldest daughter? Why would he take my head and smash it against a wall? …..  My father had to live up to this impossible ideal, and so he was never allowed to be himself. He was never allowed to express tenderness or vulnerability, curiosity, doubt. He was never allowed to cry. And so he was forced to push all those feelings underground…

 Those suppressed feelings later became Shadowman, and he was out of control, and he eventually unleashed his torrent on me. 

 The third step is you have to open your heart and feel what your victim felt …. You have to let your heart break. You have to feel the horror and betrayal and the long-term impacts of your action on your victim. You have to sit with the suffering you have caused. 

 And, of course, the fourth step is taking responsibility for what you have done and making amends. 

 So, why would anyone want to go through such a gruelling and humbling process? Why would you want to rip yourself open? Because it is the only thing that will set yourself free.”

This is SO important.  This is what Jesus is talking about when he says “Repent of your sins and turn to God”

When we repent we still feel the guilt of our past mistakes.  I still feel angst thinking about that party.  And this is where the final point is Paul’s speech brings such freedom:

“Anyone who believes in Jesus will have their sins forgiven.”

Perhaps this seems a little unfair – what about someone who doesn’t ‘believe in Jesus’.  Are they not forgiven?  Well clearly they will not be able to believe that they are forgiven.  We have to believe that Jesus has the authority to forgive our sins in order to accept that forgiveness.

Maybe it’s actually more serious if we claim to believe in Jesus. We know the theory, but have we really repented?  Do we really know that freedom that we are forgiven?  How can we tell?

I actually found the TED talk above when I was looking for a quote about activism:

“An activist is someone who cannot help but fight for something.  That person is not usually motivated by the need for power, or money or fame.  But in fact is driven slightly mad by some injustice, some cruelty, some unfairness, so much so that he or she is compelled by some internal moral engine to make it better.”

So my question is, are we activists for Christ?  Have we repented and turned to God with such deep honesty that we “cannot help but fight for Him”, such that we are “compelled by some internal moral engine to make it better”

And if not, it’s time we did something about it.

Let’s pray that God shows us our sin, that we can understand why we do it, that we can feel what our ‘victims’ feel, that we take responsibility for it and that we commit to making amends.

That is the only thing that will set us free.

(Delivered as a sermon – January 2020)

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Four things to check in manifesto costings

During an election all parties make commitments to do things which cost money.  Voters expect them to put a cost against each item.  Commentators then add up the costs and say that this is what each party is going to spend.  This process is way too simplistic to make meaningful comparisons.

Spend v invest

 If I spend £5000 on a holiday, when I get home all I have left are the memories.  If I spend £5000 on a car I have both the asset of the car and the cost saving of reduced bus fares.  I have ‘invested’ in the car, instead of ‘spending’ on the holiday

If a government ‘spends’ on purchasing assets, particularly those which will generate revenue, then this is investment – and a saving for the future.  The assets of the nation will have increased.

Similarly, if a government sells off assets and then spends the money it is really a ‘spend’ and should be reported as such – spending our savings.

The cost of unemployment

As a civilised society we provide a safety net for those who are unable to work at a given time.  If a government ‘spends’ money on something that allows them to work then there is an immediate saving in benefit payments.  Plus there is an increase in government income from tax and NI contributions, and VAT on whatever the person purchases with their income.

Maintaining health and Correcting past shortfalls

A household could cut down on their spending by stopping eating.  This is clearly a crazy thing to do, leading to wasting and death.

Similarly certain basics of infrastructure of society need maintaining, without which society becomes sick and will eventually fall apart.  Making ‘savings’ in these areas are extremely costly on the health of the nation, and correcting past shortfalls takes more time and effort to remedy than if the ‘saving’ was not made in the first place.

The cost of impatience

If you want something immediately it always costs more than if you are ready to wait.  We can pay a high price for ‘same day delivery’ or we can get free delivery in a few days time.

A government can also make expensive choices from impatience.  Setting a deadline by which a deal has to be done significantly weakens the negotiators hand and will always lead to a more costly deal

So when we look at election costings we must not simply look at a totaled up figure.  We really need to think about what category they are in.  Are they investment,  are they too high due to impatience,  are they compensating for past under-investment,  are they allowing people to contribute usefully to society through good jobs?

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Great Britain? I hope so.

Eighty years ago this nation was at a crisis.  Politicians of the day worked together for the good of Britain and Europe.  The monarch was respected and brought hope to the people suffering – visiting Coventry after the horrific bombings, addressing our nation and urging us to pull together to fight against fascist powers that were oppressing the poor, the weak and the scapegoat Jews.  It was a time where national values and pride meant doing the right thing for our neighbours.

Fast forward to today.  We have in power an unelected leader who is treating our Queen with contempt, as a tool to be used as he sees fit.  We see those in high office treat our honourable institution of parliament with utter disrespect – lounging on the front benches. New scapegoats are created.  Our traditions are trampled.  Unelected oligarchs and manipulators hold powerful positions.  The similarities with the fascist regimes that “Great” Britain united to defeat are startling.

We will have a general election soon.  It will be a test.  Has our nation abandoned the values that we once held dear, and for which men and women gave their lives in our finest hour?  Or will truth and goodness prevail?  This will not be an election about Brexit, but it will be a test of what we are as a nation.  It will be a test of our values.  I hope and pray that we will choose truth, justice and honour.

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Amazon Rain-forest Fires – are we being hypocritical?

Pictures of the burning Amazon rain-forests are horrifying enough to bring despair.  Surely the world is doomed unless they stop!

Easy to say, isn’t it.  And I have found myself responding like that to the media attention.  But is that really the situation?   Is this just a smokescreen (no pun intended) to distract attention from deeper problems?  Let’s see if we can find the facts:

Carbon uptake in the Amazon is important.  The following article https://phys.org/news/2017-02-carbon-uptake-amazon-forests-region.html  points out that the carbon captured by the Amazon rainforests is equal to “four times the UK emissions for 2016”.  It is also equivalent to emissions in the region.  The nations of the Amazon are carbon neutral!

The  entire combined emissions from deforestation and fossil fuels  from the nations in the Amazon is only four times the emissions of the UK.   UK emissions are about 1% of global emissions. https://www.ucsusa.org/global-warming/science-and-impacts/science/each-countrys-share-of-co2.html .  China emissions account for 28% of global emissions.  The same site shows the emissions per person, with the top few being Saudi Arabia, USA, Australia and Canada at over 15 tonnes per person per year.  By contrast Brazil emits 2.17 tonnes per person.  France (with reference to comments from M Macron) emits twice that – and remember that France has a lot of nuclear power.

Clearly the countries of the Amazon are not the culprits in producing carbon emissions.  But consider why they are burning the forest.  They want to improve their standard of living, fulfilling a market ‘need’ for food.  And which capitalist country can argue with that?  Why do they want to improve their standard of living?  Because they are nowhere near the top. Brazil ranks 62 in the quality of life index. UK ranks 18th and USA 13th.  https://www.numbeo.com/quality-of-life/rankings_by_country.jsp

So the scale of the problem is small compared to the global emissions of the rest of the world, and the reason for the burning of the forests is to improve the standard of living of the population in the only way possible in the capitalist culture of the modern world.

And things have improved considerably in recent years.  Deforestation in the Amazon is roughly a third of what it was at the turn of the century: https://rainforests.mongabay.com/amazon/deforestation_calculations.html  and is ‘reasonably’ stable at around 80% of the 1970 levels.  This is not to say it is not important, but that perhaps most of the damage has been done.

If we in the west value the contribution that the rain-forests make to the world then we should pay for it.  We should not be sanctioning, or even threatening to invade (which I saw suggested on one site).  We pay for oil, which we then use to produce CO2 for our comfort, so we should pay those who capture our carbon.

In fact, there are mechanisms in place if we are willing to put our money where our concerns are, then we can each do something to reduce deforestation.  Here is one example: https://www.carbonfootprint.com/brazil_para_redd.html. Why not commit to offset all your personal emissions in this way? And before you ask, yes, I have – my emissions for the last 35 years.

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